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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
European press on Milosevic extradition

Many papers found themselves overtaken by events when the news broke early on Thursday evening that Slobodan Milosevic had been dispatched by the Serbian authorities to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Most only managed to respond with factual accounts of the day's main story, but an illustrious handful had editorial comment at the ready.

Overdue justice, or business deal?

One such was the Spanish El Pais, for whom Milosevic is "the man who in turn-of-the-century Europe best embodied the use of ethnic hatred as a political weapon".

"The Milosevic issue had become the litmus test of the credibility of the government coalition," the paper says. "Handing him over was the supreme decision required of the Serbian leaders to validate their purpose to rejoin the democratic community."

"With Milosevic finally confronting his historical destiny, international aid must start arriving in destroyed Yugoslavia in generous quantities", it urges.

"Besides the catharsis it represents for Yugoslavia," the paper adds, "Milosevic's extradition is above all good news for mankind. "It confirms that tyrants seeking impunity are running out of holes in which to hide."

In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was also ready with prompt comment.

"The majority of Serbs had since long become weary of the Milosevic regime," the paper says, but "the sense that Serbia was above all a land of perpetrators rather than a victim was never very popular".

This is why "to many Serbs, the aircraft that brought the former dictator to The Hague might seem like a container in which a past that had turned into an embarrassment has been instantly disposed of".

"In the end, it was the 'Slobo factor' that accelerated Mr Milosevic's extradition," the paper believes. "The United States had made it unmistakably clear" that reconstruction aid would not be forthcoming otherwise.

So, "the wanted man was delivered to The Hague a few hours before the start of the donors' conference: it was a trade-off", the paper acknowledges.

"The new rulers in Belgrade may not look upon it with pride in days to come, but the success for international criminal law is unsurpassed," it concludes.

Someone must have shouted "Hold the front page!" in the newsroom of the French daily Liberation, for the said front page is entirely given over to a colour photograph of Slobodan Milosevic, his right hand covering his face, under the caption, "The defendant will rise!" and, in smaller type, "Slobodan Milosevic has been transferred to the Hague tribunal to answer for crimes against humanity".

"The man delivered yesterday to the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague only ruled thanks to war and its procession of horrors," says a commentary in the same daily, under the heading of "The bringer of war".

"Thus is the man responsible for all the evil done and suffering endured in the region brought before his judges": These lines from the Swiss Le Temps mean more than initially meets the eye.

"One is naturally tempted to see this extradition as the final act of the Balkans tragedy," the paper adds. "Happy end, curtain falls, applause, thank you very much."

"But unfortunately too many false notes upset the feeling of relief", the paper adds, because Milosevic's transfer "was the result of extraordinary financial pressure over the young Belgrade government".

"It is no exaggeration to say that the extradition of the former dictator was a business deal."

"Whoever the person involved - and especially if we do not like them - the law is the law, and this move was no more than an act of force at odds with principles usually upheld in the West," the paper concludes.

The Russian business daily Kommersant says the news came "like a bolt from the blue".

Recalling that the Constitutional Court in Belgrade had previously refused to approve the government decree to extradite the former leader, the paper says that this was "not unexpected" since five of the court's judges were Milosevic appointees.

"It was because the Constitutional Court was known to lack objectivity that most Serbian democrats were determined to continue the process" of extradition, Kommersant says, pointing out that Milosevic himself, while still president, undertook to cooperate with the Hague tribunal.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

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